Could Pablo Sandoval Return In Time for the Playoffs?

Boston Red Sox's Pablo Sandoval walks through the dugout in the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, March 31, 2016, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The 2016 Boston Red Sox have turned into a story about the redemption of former Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington.

The Rick Porcello trade looks pretty good right now doesn’t it?

What about signing Hanley Ramirez?

How’s that 2015 first round draft pick out of Arkansas named Benintendi working out?

What about that Koji Uehara extension, or trading Lars Anderson for Steven Wright? Or not trading prospects by the name of Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr?

There’s more of course, and part of that “of course” includes a third baseman by the name of Pablo Sandoval.

Sandoval signed a five-year, $95 million free-agent contract with the Red Sox back in November of 2014.

The Red Sox are still waiting for that contract to start to pay-off in some form other than poor play, or time spent on the disabled list.

How ironic would it be in this season of Ben Cherington’s redemption if Sandoval started to finally make a positive contribution to the Red Sox during the 2016 playoffs?

The Red Sox are officially “in.” Another night, another late-season, come-from-behind-win against a division opponent. Saturday the team was the Tampa Bay Rays, the score was 3-2, the inning was the seventh, and the hero was Dustin Pedroia.

Pedroia took a 2-2, two-out offering from Rays reliever Danny Farquhar and deposited the pitch just over the fence in left-center for a go-ahead grand slam home run.  The lead held, because the Red Sox bullpen has transformed itself into exactly what every team wants, a nearly lights-out option to seal victories. The final score was 6-4

It was the Red Sox tenth win in a row, their longest winning streak since the 2009 squad rolled off 11 straight wins in mid to late April.

But with the postseason happening, and the team in need of some sort of consistent option at third base Pablo Sandoval’s name is suddenly being mentioned.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported on Saturday.

“The Red Sox may have the option of activating Pablo Sandoval. He’s way ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery that has kept him out nearly the entire season. But now Sandoval seems to be ready. He’s taken batting practice, taken ground balls at third base. He’s played in two Instructional League games in Fort Myers as a DH.”

Before you start to nod your head back-and-forth in disapproval, consider the caliber of bounce-back season being had by Hanley Ramirez, and then consider that the major reason that Sandoval was offered a contract of nearly $100 million was because he had been an absolute monster during the San Francisco Giants postseason runs of 2012 and 2014.

Sandoval was the MVP of the 2012 World Series. He slashed .283/.342/.447 with 12 home runs during the regular season and then spent October slashing .364/.386/.712 with 6 home runs thrown in for very good measure.

In 2014 Sandoval was once again a solid regular-season third baseman, he slashed .279/.324/.415 with 16 home runs, and then stepped into a phone booth to become a postseason hero in which he slashed .366/.423/.465. He didn’t hit any home runs, but the 26 hits and 7 doubles certainly came in handy as the Giants rolled through the playoffs and won the World Series.

Now, all of a sudden with the Red Sox third base options seemingly down to the slumping Travis Shaw (.204/.270/.377 with 7 home runs and 23 RBI since the All-Star break,) a weak hitting Aaron Hill (.222/.283/.274 since joining the Red Sox,) and a woefully unprepared but promising prospect named Yoan Moncada (currently riding a streak of 9 strikeouts over his last 9 at-bats.) Pablo Sandoval has emerged as a potential option for the surging Red Sox.

To paraphrase the great Vin Scully:  In a year that has been so improbable, could the impossible happen?

Seriously, what would be more of a fairytale ending to this season than Pablo Sandoval showing up to become exactly what the Red Sox had hoped he’d be when they lavished what has to this point been one of the worst free-agent contracts in franchise and league history.

Sandoval hasn’t appeared in a major league game since April 10th when he came in as a pinch hitter with two outs and one on in the top of the ninth. He struck out on five pitches to end the game. The Red Sox lost 3-0 to the Blue Jays.

Less than a week later it was revealed that he would need shoulder surgery. Most people assumed he would him to miss all of 2016. He was out-of-sight, out-of-mind for most Red Sox fans.

Sandoval had become a 2017 problem.

Now, with one week remaining in the regular season and the Red Sox heading to the playoffs, Sandoval may become a 2016 problem for the Red Sox postseason opponents.

Saturday night, Evan Drellich of The Boston Herald reported that Sandoval’s chances of returning for the playoffs are slim, but Red Sox manager John Farrell didn’t rule it out.

“You can never forecast injury, you can never forecast what takes place ahead,” Farrell said. “Nothing has been ruled out with Pablo. Particularly with how he’s responding. He’s well ahead of schedule.”

A Sandoval return in unlikely and even if he did return, he probably wouldn’t be a major contributor, but then again, who would have thought that Rick Porcello would win 22 games and emerge as a probably AL Cy Young winner? Who would have thought that Hanley Ramirez would emerge as one of the Red Sox clutch hitters? Who would have thought that Mookie Betts would be a likely top-3 MVP vote-getter?

Panda in the playoffs? You never know with the 2016 Red Sox.

 

 

About the Author

Ben Shapiro
Red Sox columnist for ESPN New Hampshire. Originally from Western Massachusetts, I currently live in New York City with my wife and dog. I've previously written for Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and MassLive.com

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